General Stanley McTerror: The Shocking Admissions the Media Treated as Unremarkable

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THE PROBLEM:
Google Search for: “Are you asking about Vice President Biden” = 3,890 results
Google Search for: “You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight” = 154 results

ONE EXAMPLE:
Vanity Fair, in a supposedly savvy media analysis that pinpoints what it thinks were McChrystal’s biggest mistakes, names the most tasteless, most absurd, and most damning quotes from Rolling Stone. No hint of anything that Chomsky would rightly call state terrorism.

If one were to look closely at the massive media coverage around the now infamous and notorious quotes emanating from U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and those of his aides, speaking to Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, one should start to notice a pattern. It is a familiar one, an important statement of mainstream American ways of not seeing.

I have done my best to read, and watch, as much as possible of the media frenzy surrounding McChrystal’s remarks, and they tend to focus–when critical–on matters of insubordination, disrespect, and insults directed toward the Commander-in-Chief (President Obama)– “intimidated,” Vice President Biden– “bite me,” U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke– “wounded animal,” U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry– “covers his flank,” National Security Adviser James Jones– “clown,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai– “asleep,” and a “fucking gay” dinner with an unnamed French Minister.

My first reaction was: big deal. Indeed, I commented hastily and angrily to some of those I respect the most, at Rethink Afghanistan, for their Facebook petition to get McChrystal to resign, calling it “damn stupid” and “superficial.” I regret that. This is an organization to which I have sent money, whose film I use in class, whose blog posts and videos have been endlessly instructive. While I still have reservations that McChrystal insulting Obama is an issue worthy of mass action, unless it is explicitly tied to demilitarizing politics and policy-making–this McChrystal is certainly not just a “tool,” a mere “instrument” of policy, the way some military people on this blog have innocently pleaded for Pentagon top brass–I do see the value in treating this story seriously. But we need a different take on matters. We need to note the silencing, the way media commentators have been trained in the art of looking the other way, missing what is plainly written and explicitly stated, and not asking questions.

SUPPORT THE TROOPS: The civilians are in their way!

Support the troops…really, was it so unpredictable that this narrative should be here too? Let’s see what Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings told Newsweek yesterday in response to a question:

What’s the response from the military been? Do you think your access will be cut in the future?

The most interesting response has been, in Kandahar, and having more than one person come up to me and saying, “We heard about your story, and we like McChrystal, but the message needs to get out there that these restrictions he’s putting on the soldiers are no good.” So it’s actually been a positive response among the soldiers here.

Too many restrictions on the soldiers, they need more support and understanding. What restrictions? Here The New York Times‘ C. J. Chivers is quick to help, with yesterday’s article, “General Faces Unease Among His Own Troops, Too.” Apparently, McChrystal is blamed by the troops–that is, the regular ones used in his daytime war, the ones with whom media are embedded–that he has “made it much more difficult for troops to use airstrikes and artillery in the fight against the Taliban.” The troops complain, as summarized by Chivers: “Firefights often drag on, sometimes lasting hours, and costing lives. The United States’ material advantages are not robustly applied; troops are engaged in rifle-on-rifle fights on their enemy’s turf.” It’s really bad: “One Marine infantry lieutenant, during fighting in Marja this year, said he had all but stopped seeking air support while engaged in firefights.” More: “Young officers and enlisted soldiers and Marines, typically speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, speak of ‘being handcuffed,’ of not being trusted by their bosses and of being asked to battle a canny and vicious insurgency ‘in a fair fight‘.” A fair fight–not being able to totally blow shit up–rifle versus rifle, when we were told the Taliban are “cowards” and rely exclusively on IEDs, here is a different admission. Check what I wrote here: “Those Cowardly Taliban” and “Protecting Civilians, Winning Hearts and Minds.”

The troops desperately want to kill, bomb, shell, to hell with any civilians caught in the crossfire. That’s the narrative we are not meant to hear. But when we get over Obama’s possibly hurt feelings, and matters of “insubordination,” we are meant to hear soldiers’ pleas for more firepower, because they are outmatched by the Taliban in a head on firefight…except we perhaps shouldn’t have heard that either. At the very most, we are dealing with daytime truths only.

McTERROR: We have shot an amazing number of people!

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” says top American commander.

People should read Rory O’Connor’s “Shocking Admission on Killing Civilians by Top US General Almost Completely Ignored by Corporate Media,” in AlterNet, published 31 March 2010. It points to the way the mainstream media, and apparently many of us along with it, have been successfully trained to look the other way.

Now read the following, from “The Runaway General,” by Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone, 22 June 2010:

❝It doesn’t hurt that McChrystal was also extremely successful as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite forces that carry out the government’s darkest ops. During the Iraq surge, his team killed and captured thousands of insurgents, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. “JSOC was a killing machine,” says Maj. Gen. Mayville, his chief of operations. McChrystal was also open to new ways of killing. He systematically mapped out terrorist networks, targeting specific insurgents and hunting them down – often with the help of cyberfreaks traditionally shunned by the military. “The Boss would find the 24-year-old kid with a nose ring, with some fucking brilliant degree from MIT, sitting in the corner with 16 computer monitors humming,” says a Special Forces commando who worked with McChrystal in Iraq and now serves on his staff in Kabul. “He’d say, ‘Hey – you fucking muscleheads couldn’t find lunch without help. You got to work together with these guys.’ ”❞

And pay special attention to this:

❝Even in his new role as America’s leading evangelist for counterinsurgency, McChrystal retains the deep-seated instincts of a terrorist hunter. To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. “You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight,” McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he’ll add, “I’m going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though.” In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency. In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009 – a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over. In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up, and in April, protests erupted in Kandahar after U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans. “We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” McChrystal recently conceded.❞

There is the nighttime war, the shadow war, part of the other war being fought in Afghanistan, away from media embeds, emerging from far flung forward operating bases and camps, dropped in by helicopter, evading the light of day. Those many NATO and Pentagon photos in flickr, showing troops handing out candies to little kiddies in the villages, and vaccinating their little arms, and handing out food to villagers seated in rows in front of self-satisfied officers pretending to be Red Cross humanitarians–that is the side we are meant to see…which is why it’s all over flickr.

Only rarely do we hear of the nighttime terror visited on villagers by assassins in U.S. Special Forces and the CIA, such as in “Nato ‘covered up’ botched night raid in Afghanistan that killed five,” and “US forces ‘kill 8 children’ in night raid on village in Afghanistan.”

And here we read in Rolling Stone, that McChrystal himself has quadrupled the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan, and he even tells one member to hit “four or five targets tonight.” What targets? Taliban targets? Al-Qaeda targets? If so, then why would McChrystal need to scold them in the morning? Because these units kill civilians, indiscriminately, with extreme brutality, and have even executed kids, possibly those who were vaccinated during the day by the pretend Santa Claus units. That is the real McTerror that the media slinks away from. So while we see thousands of pages already quoting the insult against Biden, we have only about 150 that contain the quote about hitting “targets” at night. So let’s talk about Obama’s hurt feelings, and let’s talk about Santa Claus.

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23 thoughts on “General Stanley McTerror: The Shocking Admissions the Media Treated as Unremarkable

  1. thank you for this; it’s been shocking to watch the coverage of this event, as if we were talking about Perez Hilton’s latest brouhaha instead of the murder of civilians by US military command.

  2. McPsycho is now gone. He is not even being allowed to return to Afghanistan to pack up his shit. It’s not that big of a deal, it happened only about 18 months ago when McKiernan was booted, and with far less ceremony and praise from the president. Now, HTS defender, Gen, David Petraeus, hero of McFate, will be in charge.

    What I think I am most impressed with, regarding this story, is how one reporter for Rolling Stone managed to bring down the top commander in Afghanistan in one single day, with one single article. It’s something to cheer, that words still matter so much, and that in this case the pen defeated the sword, so swiftly. Macho McChrystal possibly thought of the reporter as another flaccid, weak-kneed little weasel writing for a hippie magazine…and instead look who proved to be the mightier protagonist.

  3. Well put, Max; There was a great piece on it this morning on Democracy Now! This is not a victory for the doves, but a squalid squabble amongst the hawks. Petraeus is no saint, but will he be less gung-ho for a third surge than McChrystal? At this point, even that would be a relief.

  4. Hi Max,

    There are a lot of things I could comment on in this post and about the entire situation. However, I just want to make one observation: does anyone really believe the GEN McChrystal was stupid enough to not know that these remarks would be reported and their probably effect?

  5. I have wondered about that a lot. It would be one of way of resigning, while making a public splash by saying what you always wanted to say about the people you are working with/for. On the other hand, Hastings or his editor (I cannot remember which one now) said that just as the story was about to be printed they were contacted by one of McChrystal’s aides who was worried about the potential fallout. That is the other aspect–even if McChrystal did this deliberately and consciously, did all of his aides do so as well? Does a Michael Flynn want to face the door, for example, for being a member of such a loud mouth gang?

    Personally, the insults were very well deserved. However, I of course understand that all of Obama’s reasons for “accepting McChrystal’s resignation” (I would have turned down the resignation, and then fired him) are entirely rational and correct. McChrsytal and Co. clearly thought that this was their team’s rock ‘n’ roll war, and that they answered to no one. I wonder how many Americans realize what kind of monster they have built up under their roof, and whether they ever considered what life is like–nasty, brutish, short–under a military dictatorship. Incidentally, not so far fetched…check what a lot of tea partiers are calling for in social networking sites, some of which includes calls for a military coup.

  6. Hi Max,

    On your last point, I’ve been wondering about that potential for a number of years, now. But, you know, there is more than one way to skin a cat and, in sometimes off-beat moments, I have to wonder if many of the US military are just totally fed up with being told to win a fight with both hands and their feet tied and no support. Certainly, that is an impression I have got from some of them and, in all honesty, I can’t blame them for it.

    Just consider this one example: under GEN McChrystal’s ROE (Rules of Engagement), getting air strikes where needed is almost impossible if there is any chance of civilians being hurt. It sounds laudable, but what if the civilians in question have been taken by the Taliban and chained to strongpoints? And, BTW, I know of at least five cases where this has happened in the recent Marjah campaign. It is similar (okay, argument by analogy) to us being told that we could teach Anthropology but never mention anything relating to biology or gender roles.

    To take another example, I know of cases where SOF groups have been doing some amazing, non-kinetic, work and are not allowed to publicize it at all. Why? Because their PA person thinks that it “isn’t good enough” and “won’t sell”. Honestly, when I read the Rolling Stone article, it just reminded me of the banter I’ve heard for years now. I’m only really going to start getting truly worried when I start hearing people quoting Seigfried Sasson’s poetry….

  7. Yet, on the other hand, no such restrictions applied for night raids by Special Forces and CIA teams, about which McChrystal himself was obviously not just aware, but in charge of, and here we have a quote of him cheering on a NAVY Seal. So there are “contradictions” here if we buy into the media reports. I am not convinced that the rules of engagement were so stringently observed either, as the airstrikes have continued, and they have continued killing civilians…of the non-chained, everyday variety.

    It’s also become part of self-validating military lore since Vietnam to declare, “we were fighting with one hand tied behind our back…it’s all the politicians’ fault…we didn’t have the support we needed.” To me it sounds like a superiority complex looking for ways of discounting reality…because unless the Taliban have chained civilians around every house and hill (and I have yet to see evidence of this novel architectural phenomenon)…these heavily armoured U.S. troops can’t seem to handle a gun fight against the Taliban.

    However, the point about fighting in civilian centers is valid, and it goes both ways. Which is why they should not be fighting there, to begin with–but let’s leave that aside for the moment. I have also learned that Canadian troops, as a matter of practice in Kandahar, personally escort children to their schools. No chains as such, but in doing so they make the children accompanying them targets as well. They might well stand back and exclaim that the Taliban are attacking schools, but a lot of those schools are special projects of various NATO military forces…and they heavily document all of this for us…in Flickr.

  8. Hi Max,

    True on all points, although I will note the GEN McChrystal had no direct control over the CIA teams (one wonders if anyone does!). As to how stringently the ROE is actually used, I just don’t know, and I doubt anyone does.

    I do totally agree with you about the nastyness of this type of a fight. It’s not as vicious as, say, Normandy in 1944 or Stalingrad, but it just goes on and on, and the corrosive effects of combat are really starting to become apparent.

    On a (somewhat) related note, did you catch the change in vocabulary with PSYOPs being replaced with MISO (Military Information Support of Operations)?

  9. I have seen “information operations” but not “military information support of operations”–and had I seen MISO, I might have likely confused it with miso. Is IO anything like MISO?

  10. Hi Max,

    Well, from what I can see, it appears to be a sort of a shell game for both IO (Influence Operations) and PSYOPs with, possibly, some strategic communications added in. There’s an interesting blog entry over here that deals with it.

    I must admit to being somewhat surprised, well, that’s not quite the right word but it will do, that it has taken them this long to come up with it. The US has been on the short end of the stick in IO / PSYOPs for the past decade or so, especially when it comes to the new communications technologies. Some of them seem to understand how important they are and that they are a major battlespace, but others seem to be living in the 1950’s!

  11. Incidentally, on the subject of ethics, do you think an anthropologist would have felt comfortable revealing the statements quoted in Rolling Stone, identifying the speaker, or the exact opposite as Hastings also does, which is to make us believe that all of the aides shared these views? About the latter, there is no sense that I get from the article that there was any aide with reservations, standing off in a corner and looking on with concern. It sounds like one team, one voice. McChrystal himself is getting blasted for what an aide says he says. Just wondering about how many anthropologists would have written up this story in this manner. I suspect that no names would have been identified, that each comment would have been connected to a one-on-one interview to better contextualize the comment, that the language would have been specific that not all the aides spoke this way…and the item would have been published a few years later, if not much later.

  12. Hi Max,

    I would hope that no Anthropologist would have felt comfortable writing that type of story, but as a piece for RS? Maybe…. I also wouldn’t be surprised to hear about this, in almost the same words, at a conference after a few pints. My current understanding is that at least the party scene was “off the record” and, if that’s true, then there has been a serious ethical breach.

    I’m not sure about your fieldwork experience, but I know that during most of mine I have heard very similar types of discussions “off the record”, and that’s the way they have stayed: off the record. I actually assume that any close group will have something similar in private and off stage, complete with ridiculous stereotypes, bitching about problems, etc., etc. and, in many ways, I wasn’t surprised at all to read it. I was surprised, however, that it was published.

    My gut guess, and it’s only a guess, is that the event was off the record and that it was, in many ways, a “bitch session”. It certainly sounds like one’s I’ve been at with similar types of people. If that is the case, then I would say there was a serious ethical breach both in reporting on it and, as you note, in casting it such that there is an appearance of unanimity. I would hope that we would have written it the way you note, but…

  13. Yes, I really have difficulty accepting someone, a general, suggesting: “we’re going for a few drinks, we’re probably all going to get hammered, but you’re welcome to come…bring that tape recorder with you. It’s all on the record.” Hastings is playing coy, and his answers are not too credible on this point. Interesting to see the wide divergence in ethical standards here, even as journalists get more protection, and far more respect from just about everyone, than we do.

  14. It is an interesting comment on “ethics” . Really, it comes down to “is your word good?” and, under what circumstances, can / must it be broken as far as confidentiality is concerned? That, of course, is the heart of what “informed consent” should mean…

    I found this interesting:

    A member of McChrystal’s team who was present for a celebration of McChrystal’s 33rd wedding anniversary at a Paris bar said it was “clearly off the record.” Aides “made it very clear to Michael: ‘This is private time. These are guys who don’t get to see their wives a lot. This is us together. If you stay, you have to understand this is off the record,’ ” according to this source. In the story, the team members are portrayed as drinking heavily.

    Source

    I’ve been at a few similar events, although not at that level, and they are definitely “off the record”.

    One thing that is sticking in the back of my brain concerns intentions. For us, Anthropologists doing fieldwork, the goal is understanding and the ability to contextualize and communicate that understanding. This is really a fairly long term goal, and one that requires us to consider the probable reactions of our audiences.

    Journalists are in a similar position, but a lot of the MSM appear to have a much shorter time horizon and with a goal of manipulating the reactions of their audiences in such a manner that will “sell” their product. Add in that they have developed a “star system” somewhat similar to Hollywood, and we end up with something like this being “acceptable”.

    Sigh…

  15. Unfortunately I cannot embed this, but if you have about 30 mins it might be worth watching:

    http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11083

    Eric Bates, Hastings’ editor at Rolling Stone, claims that “it was understood” that the comments were on the record. It suggests to me that Hastings got approval–of course, at some point he had to–and extended it to everything that was not preceded by the injunction that “this is off the record.” Bates claims there was a good bit of really damning stuff that was off the record and was not printed in the article.

    Again, I think anthropologists usually (hopefully) have enough sense to know when they cross into a nebulous area, where people’s judgment seems to be impaired, where statements clearly go against the preferred self-representation of their informants, to engage in ongoing dialogue about what is meant for public consumption. Hastings is not entirely to blame here of course, and at the very least he has protected the identity of the unnamed aides. While I am still ill at ease with his methods, there is the other side: one should assume that someone like McChrystal is rational and calculating, and he still has to answer questions as to why he said what he said in front of outside company, which can be very stupid to do whether or not that guest is a journalist, an anthropologist, or a janitor.

    PS: Side note–listen to David Kilcullen complain, like McChrystal’s aide said, that Obama is not engaged on the topic of Afghanistan. Remember the complaint a few months back, that Obama and his team were taking too long to review McChrystal’s recommendations? That is not the level of attentiveness and slow deliberation I would expect from “disengaged” people. Personally, I think Kilcullen has a personal, vested interest, and a gripe that the project that effectively pays his wages is not getting the extreme degree of tender, loving care that he hopes for. Obama has boosted troop numbers in Afghanistan twice, making Afghanistan the centrepiece it never was under Bush, so again I am not sure Kilcullen has a valid complaint. Kilcullen hitched his wagon to counterinsurgency, and in the not distant future he will see his own ambitions hit some very hard ground, if it has not started to happen already.

  16. this article seems germane to the discussion on sources and treatment by journalists; a response to Laura Logan’s attack on Hastings on the CNN show… http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/matt-taibbi/blogs/TaibbiData_May2010/122137/83512

    For instance,

    When I first heard her say that, I thought to myself, “That has to be a joke. It’s sarcasm, right?” But then I went back and replayed the clip – no sarcasm! She meant it! If I’m hearing Logan correctly, what Hastings is supposed to have done in that situation is interrupt these drunken assholes and say, “Excuse me, fellas, I know we’re all having fun and all, but you’re saying things that may not be in your best interest! As a reporter, it is my duty to inform you that you may end up looking like insubordinate douche bags in front of two million Rolling Stone readers if you don’t shut your mouths this very instant!” I mean, where did Logan go to journalism school – the Burson-Marsteller agency?

  17. Thanks Erik, that offers some much needed context. I may have been making a very simple, but serious, mistake in some of my comments above, quite against what I would normally write. The reason for that is that to some degree, anthropology has become instinct for me, and that is when you get the worst kind of conservative anthropology. One should contextualize ethics within the social situation of the groups and individuals one is studying. Ethical conduct among vulnerable, exploited, and impoverished groups should not necessarily be the same that is applied when studying those in power, and with a great deal of power. Put the two sides together in this last sentence, and it means that ethics then becomes cover for doing harm by protecting the positions of those who do the most of it. From that same article:

    “when the man running a war that’s killing thousands of young men and women every year steps on his own dick in front of a journalist, that journalist is supposed to eat the story so as not to embarrass the flag.”

    What follows is a critique from the same article about what it is in fact one of the pillars of ethnographic work, building rapport. This is being said, with ridicule, against a journalist, but note that it is the kind of acknowledged duplicity common to most fieldwork that we do not readily speak about openly and critically in anthropology:

    And the part that really gets me is Logan bitching about how Hastings was dishonest to use human warmth and charm to build up enough of a rapport with his sources that they felt comfortable running their mouths off in front of him….According to Logan, that’s sneaky — and journalists aren’t supposed to be sneaky:

    “What I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion of trust and, you know, he’s laid out there what his game is… That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do, who don’t — I don’t go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else. I mean, I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life.”

    It’s a brilliant article, it needs to be read by all. Many thanks for sharing this, very much appreciated, and it helps to temper some of the comments I made in posts above, which I now wish I hadn’t written.

  18. i wouldn’t be hard on yourself here; your comment immediately above certainly makes it clear that further consideration allowed you to change your opinion, and changing your opinion is a righteous thing to do, especially when you find you’ve been incorrect (or, more colloquially, ‘no point sticking to your guns if they’re pointing in the wrong direction…). Excellent new post, btw.

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